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The Cost of The Vietnam War.

The United States Military took part in the Vietnam War, which started in 1957 and ended in 1975. At that time of war Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam (Communist system) and South Vietnam (non communist). North Vietnam didn’t want the U.S. to support South Vietnam. South Vietnam took U.S. help to make Vietnam single nation.

When Harry Truman was president, the United States had established a doctrine called “containment.” Originated by George Kennan and other diplomats and policy advisers, the policy of “containment” aimed not to fight a determined war with the communist Soviet Union, but instead to narrow communism and the Soviet Union to their existing boundaries.

This containment led directly to the Vietnam War. The Soviet Union was determined to expand communism on the rest of the world. Communist governments would without doubt be part of Soviet kingdom but according to the doctrine of “containment” there could be no such thing as a neutral, one nation. It must be either part of the Soviet Union or Unites States.

So, the belief was that all nations must be associated with either the United States or the Soviet Union. The United States was afraid of spreading of the communism, but the doctrine of containment made it difficult to see nations as separate, as places with different cultures, different problems, and different histories.

The Vietnam was part of French Indochina in 1946. The Vietnamese fought with French to get their independence. Military equipment was provided by the United States still French were defeated in 1954. Then Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam.

The war was mainly between the South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese known as the Viet Cong from 1957 to 1965. The military was provided by United States. The U.S. troops went to Vietnam in March 1965. They did most of the fighting with North Vietnam until 1969. By the end of 1969, the War seemed never-ending. Gradually United States began to pull out U.S. military.

In January 1973, a negotiating meeting was arranged. Two months later last U.S. troops left Vietnam. Even though the fighting between North and South Vietnam resumed soon afterwards, U.S. troops did not return. On April 30, 1975, South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam and ended the war.

The American military was not defeated in Vietnam. The American military did not lose a battle of any consequence. From a military standpoint, it was almost an unprecedented performance. (General William Westmoreland quoting Douglas Pike, a professor at the University of California, Berkley a renowned expert on the Vietnam war) [Westmoreland]

Professor Pike does not categorically state that the United States did not lose the war in Vietnam; however, I believe that his comment is generally understood to mean that the United States did not lose the war.

President Nixon’s secretary of defence James Schlesinger regretted that the military had too many restraints placed upon it during the war. Generals Maxwell Taylor and William Westmoreland lamented that they could have won the war if only the American people had not succumbed to a “failure of will.” Historian Henry S. Commanger like other humanists was sickened by the immorality by events taking place in Vietnam during the war stated, in part, “…that some wars are so deeply immoral that they must be lost, that the war in Vietnam was one of these wars…”

Here we have two viewpoints as to whether or not the war was won or lost. The first point is by Professor Pike, who seems to believe that the United States did not lose the war in Vietnam. The second viewpoint is expressed by James Schlesinger, Generals Taylor and Westmoreland and Henry Commanger. The comments by Secretary Schlesinger, Generals Taylor and Moreland seem to indicate that the United State did lose the war.

“One of Saigon’s wartime prime ministers, Nguyen Kao Ky, took an exceptional position among Vietnamese veterans living in the United States. He saw the roll of hearts and minds in Saigon’s defeat. In his book How We Lost the War in Vietnam he described the U.S. role in Vietnam as “misguided” and naive concerning the opinions of the common Vietnamese” [Macros History & the world report]

The most famous nationalist leader in the twentieth century was Ho Chi Minh, born in 1890 to a low-level government employee. At the time of World War I, Ho travelled to Europe and joined other Vietnamese to plead for independence. The Communists seemed to be the only political force to strongly disapprove colonialism, so Ho and other nationalist joined the Communist party.

In 1930 and 1931 the French brutally suppressed a Vietnamese uprising, killing 10,000 and deporting 50,000. In 1940 and 1941 the Japanese took over Vietnam but left collaborating French officials in charge. The Vietnamese, including Ho’s Communists went underground, used China as a base and in 1941 organized the Viet Minh. In the final days of World War II Viet Minh guerillas fought Japanese troops and worked with the United States.

Ho sent formal messages to Washington describing himself as the George Washington of Vietnam and often mentioned the American Declaration of Independence and the Atlantic Charter. In August 29th, 1945 the Viet Minh organized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and established headquarters in Hanoi. Vietnam seemed closer to independence than ever before.

In the fall of 1944 State Department officials told President Roosevelt that Indochina and South east Asia were potentially important markets for American exports. Roosevelt never formulated exact plans for Indochina, so the French, with British and American military help, returned to Vietnam. They were not welcomed. Abandoned by the United States, receiving no support from Russia and now facing French forces the Viet Minh accepted a compromise with France in March 1946. Viet Minh and French soldiers clashed in December.

One French bombardment of Haiphong killed several thousand civilians. The Viet Minh responded with guerilla terror. For the next eight years, Vietnam was wrecked by bloody combat, with the French holding the cities and the Viet Minh in the countryside.

When Richard Nixon became President in 1969 he stated a plan “Vietnamization” that would end the war. He bombed North Vietnam, and in 1972 U.S. air power encouraged Vietnam to establish an agreement with the United States. The U.S. part of the agreement was that it would pull its troops out of Vietnam and take apart its bases. According to the agreement, the U.S. could replace arms, on a one-to-one basis, that had been supplied to the Saigon regime. President Nixon planned to use air power again to discourage Vietnam if they violated the agreement.

U.S. citizens were turning against United States involvement in Vietnam War. They were influenced by what they saw on television including children running from bombings. The U.S. Congress responded to the change in public opinion on the war, and it voted for restrictions on material support to the regime in Saigon.

During the ten year period that followed the military triumph of the communist forces in Vietnam, the much feared spread of communism to other nations in the Far East did not happen. Thailand, Burma, Indonesia or the Philippines did not follow communism. A communist force had taken power in Cambodia but did not remain in power long. Neither did the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in opposition to that communist force.

Few lessoned were learned by the United States in this war. One was the removal of terror bombing. The second lesson was to restrict access for journalists and with military-led television. And the third lesson was that no U.S. troops should be committed to battle without a clear goal, a feasible plan and public support.

Facts about the end of the war: The 140,000 evacuees in April 1975 during the fall of Saigon consisted almost entirely of civilians and Vietnamese military, NOT American military running for their lives. There were almost twice as many casualties in South east Asia (primarily Cambodia) the first two years after the fall of Saigon in 1975 then there were during the ten years the U.S. was involved in Vietnam. [1996 Information Please Almanac]”

More helicopter facts: Approximately 12,000 helicopters saw action in Vietnam (all services). Army UH-1’s totalled 7,531,955 flight hours in Vietnam between October 1966 and the end of 1975. Army AH-1G’s totalled 1,038,969 flight hours in Vietnam. [VHPA databases]

Around Fifty thousand Americans lost their lives. The losses to the Vietnamese people were awful. The financial cost to the United States comes to something over $150 billion dollars. Americans who lost their lives in war have their names engraved on a black granite wall. This is called the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located in Washington, D.C. There are the around 58,000 Americans who paid the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country in Vietnam.


1996 Information Please Almanac 1995 Information Please Almanac Atlas & Yearbook 49th edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston & New York 1996, pages 117, 161 and 292.

Westmoreland Speech by General William C. Westmoreland before the Third Annual Reunion of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) at the Washington, DC Hilton Hotel on July 5th, 1986 (reproduced in a Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Historical Reference Directory Volume 2A)

Macros History & the world report-

Macros History & the world report-

VHPA Databases – Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Databases.

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